“Allergic reactions are commonly thought of as misguided or overreactive responses of the immune system, but I believe they are due to a lack of function of key immune cells, so they can actually be thought of as resulting from immune deficiency rather than immune excess.”
– Leo Galland, M.D. from “The Allergy Solution”
This quote is so important because it challenges the popular idea in medicine that reactions and symptoms in the body result from too much of something the body naturally produces (stomach acid, cholesterol, immune activity, etc) and that the solution is to suppress that part of the body.
If you’ve ever taken allergy medications (Benadryl, etc), asthma inhalers that contain corticosteroids, other forms of corticosteroids or prednisone, those are administered to dampen down the immune system. These drugs can be very helpful in a life-saving situation, but chronic, repeated use does nothing to address what’s really happening under the surface and can have negative effects.
The key thing to remember about all prescriptions is that in order to suppress symptoms, they also have to suppress function. And that’s where the real problem lies. They’re also not specific. What that means is that when you take an antihistamine for your itchy nose and watery eyes, it circulates throughout your entire body, not just the areas where you seek relief. It also crosses the blood-brain barrier and affects the histamine made in the brain, which acts as a neurotransmitter for healthy brain function. Antihistamines and other similar drugs are now being connected to poor brain function and Alzheimer’s (1).
This is a much smarter way to view the body. Anytime your body screams, it needs something. Silencing the screams will probably only cause deeper problems.
So, when you have allergy symptoms, what is the deeper need?
Before we get there, I should mention that in this book, the award-winning doctor, Leo Galland, M.D., refers to all types of allergies – environmental and food. While he sort of lumps together food allergies and food sensitivities, which are two separate things, I think he’s making the larger point throughout the book that there are factors in our environment, including our diet, that are increasing the incidence of ALL types of immune dysfunction. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll keep true to his discussion and call them all allergies.
Allergies Are a Result of Weak Immunity
Instead of viewing your immune system as a radio dial where you can increase or decrease the volume and turn your immune system up or down, Dr. Galland explains that the immune system is more of a symphony – all the instruments have to be playing in harmony, one can’t drown out the other and they all need to play their specific part – sometimes one section takes the lead and other times they hang back.
In the case of allergy, there’s a section of the symphony that’s supposed to take the lead, but it just isn’t there. Those are the T regulatory cells and it’s the deficiency of these cells that allows for an immune reaction.
T regulatory cells (T-regs) are supposed to say to the immune system that the pollen or the food that you’ve just encountered is “safe”.
Research has consistently found that people with allergic responses have weak T-regs and people who have allergies but later outgrow them have regained proper T-reg function. (2)
It’s not that the rest of the immune system is overactive, it’s that the T-regs would normally turn off the allergy response, but they’re just not there to play their part – deficiency, not excess.
Who Is Affected By This?
You don’t always know that you’re allergic. Up until this point, you may have thought this was all about hay fever and pollen allergies or allergies to pet dander and dust mites, but one thing is very clear: hidden allergies are one of the most under-diagnosed and under discussed areas of health. It’s not taught in medical school and it’s not even understood by allergy specialists. This is why so many people have no clue this is happening to them.
One of the hallmarks of so many “unexplained” conditions and symptoms is an underlying hidden allergy to either the environment or food.
This could be you if you experience the following:
- Weight Gain
- Brain fog
- Joint pain
- Digestive problems
- Chest pain
- Food Cravings
- Mood and Cognitive disturbances
- Post nasal drip
- Muscle pain
- Heart palpitation
And the list goes on….
What’s Causing Us To Have Weak Immunity and Be Allergic?
Dr. Galland says, “Scienctists seeking answers to these questions agree that the rise of allergies is not the result of genetic changes”.
As with almost every health problem, we have much more control over whether or not we suffer from allergies. We must restore a balanced immune system and proper T-reg function in order to resolve allergies. We do this like almost everything else: remove harmful things and increase healthy things.
Environmental stressors that help cause allergy:
- Indoor air pollution – dryer sheets are a biggie, scented and perfumes products, carpeting, formaldehyde from wood floors, paint, wallpaper, printers etc. We don’t always have control over these things, but live plants with air cleaning capabilities can help, along with using natural laundry and cleaning products. Indoor air is typically more polluted than outdoor air, so making sure your home is ventilated when weather permits is also helpful.
- Mold – keep the humidity in your home low and if you’ve got chronic symptoms like muscle pains, sinus allergies, asthma or symptoms that go away when you take a vacation from your workplace or home, check into mold contamination. (I experienced this where I would get a headache at work by midday that would be gone within an hour of leaving work. Of course I thought I was allergic to work! Turns out, the building had a mold problem.)
- Cigarette smoke – a known trigger of asthma in children. Being either around someone who smokes or in their home (even if they’re not smoking at that moment, called third hand smoke) exposes you to some major toxins that can inflame the respiratory tract.
- Outdoor air pollution – car exhaust, smog and other air particulates also cause inflammation in the lungs and respiratory system. If you have a garage, do not run the car in the garage and he even recommends not parking cars in garages, especially if someone in the home has allergies.
- Global warming and longer pollen seasons – more carbon dioxide in the air from burning fossil fuels along with rising temperatures are expected to double the number of pollen producing plans and increase the pollen output per flower by 50%.
- Using antibacterial soaps – the active ingredient, triclosan, in many antibacterial products enters our body through our skin, then it ends up in our noses and respiratory tracts. This allows staphylococcal bacteria (staph) to grow, which produces a toxin. This toxin causes an inflammatory reaction, can cause chronic sinusitis, and can inactivate T-regs or cause them to behave differently. (3, 4) The crazy thing is that these staph toxins are known to induce food allergy because we swallow the toxin from our noses down into our stomachs and it induces reactions to certain foods. (5) Avoid antibacterial products of all kinds.
- Taking antacids – I’ve written about this here, but it deserves repeating that these drugs, including over the counter varieties, increase your risk for bone loss, fractures, nutritional deficiencies, pneumonia, food-borne infection and life-threatening infections in the intestinal tract. They also increase the risk of allergies to foods and medications. There are lots of cited studies in the book, including a 70% increase in diagnosed food allergies in children taking these medications and a 70% increase in children born with asthma to women who used these drugs in pregnancy. (6,7)
You may be thinking, “There’s no way for me to avoid all of these things!”
You’re right. It’s impossible to avoid pollution and antibacterial soaps in public restrooms, etc. All you can do is reduce what you can in the environments you have some control over. Any reduction will prove beneficial on some level.
Dietary factors that contribute to allergy:
- Vitamin D deficiency – get your vitamin D levels checked and make sure your doctor is measuring 25 hydroxy vitamin D. You want it between 100 and 160 nmol/L or 40 to 55 ng/ml (you can read more about that here). Get sun without sunscreen for about 30min as frequently as you can with as much of your body exposed as you can. And to prevent imbalances, take vitamin D with K2.
- Processed and fast foods, trans fats, refined carbohydrates, sugar are all associated with increased allergies. Avoid fast food, cook at home more and try to buy non-GMO or organic foods as much as possible. Eat lots of vegetables.
- Imbalances in our gut bacteria – many, many books and articles have been written about how all disease begins in the gut. So, to avoid too much detail here, I’ll simply point out that that people with allergies tend to be missing certain strains of healthy bacteria. The book highlights different strains that can help in different allergy situations, but the best overall strategy is to eat a healthy diet and include fermented foods, lots of vegetables and bone broth. Taking isolated strains of probiotics can help in the short-term, but your diet is what has the most effect on your gut health and which bacteria grow and which don’t. Remember that we are more bacteria than human and the health of our bacteria determines how healthy we are. We feed them when we eat, so it’s important to feed the good guys with healthy foods.
- Nutrient deficiencies – again, your diet is key. Zinc, selenium, magnesium, vitamin E, folate, vitamin C, omega-3 fats and all kinds of nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. These are best obtained from food and food-based supplements (check the label and work with a professional). Synthetic vitamins will not bring about the long-term desired results and can be harmful.
As you can see, the real key is to allergies is to improve your health on a deep level, restore healthy T-reg function and reduce the stressors of a toxic environment and bad food. This keeps your immune system more balanced, preventing unwanted reactions.
Here are some specific strategies from the book:
- Eat strawberries (if you are not allergic or sensitive to them) – they contain the potent antioxidant fisetin that has been shown to decrease allergic response by protecting T-regs from damage.
- Eat more parsley – parsley contains apigenin, which is also shown to decrease allergy. Grow a pot of parsley at home and you can make very refreshing drinks in the blender (recipe below). You can also throw strawberries and parsley into a smoothie.
- Drink green or oolong tea – These are the two teas recommended in the book for their high ECGC content. ECGC is a flavanoid shown to reduce allergic reaction by increasing T-reg production. He recommends only getting this from actual tea, not supplements, and at 4 cups per day if your goal is to reduce your allergies. People without allergies still benefit from this compound in tea, as it prevents cancer, heart disease and many other ailments.
- Reduce stress – stress provokes allergy and asthma symptoms. There are lots of citations in the book that show this direct link. Is there anything stress doesn’t cause? Like sleep, stress management tends to be at the bottom of our priority lists. I don’t believe that you have to meditate (though it’s insanely good for you) or be into yoga or hiking in the woods to relax. There are so many ways to de-stress if you seek out things that lift your spirit – music, a friend who makes you laugh. When I’m in what feels like a stress spiral, I take advantage of technology and watch my favorite comedian or some other funny video clip online. Laughing completely changes your physiology. Need to get something off your chest? Find someone who lets you vent, but also helps you move on and find healthy solutions to life’s challenges.
- Take probiotics – all probiotics don’t work for everyone. There are tons on the market and it’s important to work with someone who is knowledgeable on how to best match a probiotic to an individual case. These are also not magic pills. They build healthy gut function over time. In the case of allergies, some strains that have proven very effective include Lactobacillus paracasei (LP-11) and (LP-33), Lactobacillus acidophilus (L-92) and (NCFM) and Bifidobacterium lactis (NCC2818) and (B1-04). These are all for allergic rhinitis and nasal allergies. The book includes lots of other strains for all types of allergies. To cover your bases, follow the recommendations above for diet, including lots of fermented products like kimchi and saurkraut and increase your intake of vegetable fiber to help feed your healthy bacteria and promote the natural growth of helpful bacterial strains.
I hope that this review helps you think about immunity and allergy from a more balanced and whole body perspective. You can take many of these steps to improve your immune function almost immediately.
Interested in learning more? If you want to go deeper, you can buy the book here.
I want to support this process for you with this easy, refreshing drink recipe utilizing two key ingredients that Dr. Galland uses with his own clients for better immune function and less allergy.
RECIPE: Simple Anti-inflammatory Immune Booster
This drink is meant to be refreshing and cooling, ideal for summertime. The consistency is more like water than a smoothie, so feel free to drink this when you’re thirsty, especially if you suffer from allergies.
1 cup of strawberries (more if you’d like)
(Allergic or sensitive to strawberries? Substitute with either the same amount of pineapple or a peice of peeled ginger about the size of your finger or half a peeled cucumber. All of these options are anti-inflammatory, though they lack the specific compound in strawberries mentioned above.)
A bunch of parsley – you can use the picture as a guide. I left the stems in, but you can just put the leaves in if you prefer.
3 cups water
1 Tbs honey or to taste (raw local honey is best for allergies) – optional
Juice from half a lemon or to taste – optional
Blend all of the ingredients together until there are no chunks and all you see are pretty green flecks.
There will be some froth on top, which I scooped out once I poured it into a glass.
Refrigerate until cool or pour over ice and enjoy. Makes one tall glass.
Note: In this post, I cited the major studies. Please reference the book for a complete listing of citations on other topics discussed here.